Quick Take:

After Wallace Baine went looking for whether the part of Santa Cruz east of downtown should be called “Midtown” or “Eastside,” we polled Lookout readers for their opinions. Many weighed in, and though one option was the clear favorite, it definitely wasn’t a debate-ending landslide.

In October, ignoring my better judgment to do otherwise, I decided to swing a big stick at an even bigger hornets nest: Regarding the part of Santa Cruz that contains Shopper’s Corner, Charlie Hong Kong and other beloved local businesses and landmarks, is it “Midtown”? Or is it “Eastside”?

Or, maybe it’s both? Neither?

I wish I could report that, due to wide community consensus and a harmonious mind meld of everyone who lives and/or works within a 3-mile radius of the Rio Theatre, we can now declare, without equivocation or caveat, that henceforth that area will always and forever be known as one thing or the other. But, alas, we cannot.

Opinions on what that part of town should be called apparently belong in a category with fingerprints and snowflakes — no two are alike.

As part of our piece, we established a poll and we asked for more feedback on the most thorny issue of our time. About 430 people voted in the poll. The results? “Eastside” scored 50%, against about 32% for “Midtown,” 14% for “Seabright,” and 2% for “Branciforte.” Another 2% chose “none of the above” and nominated their own choice.

What does it all mean? Well, Joe Biden was elected president on roughly the same percentage that “Eastside” achieved in our poll. So, there’s a temptation here to plant an Eastside flag in front of The Crepe Place and be done with the whole thing. But the references to and signage of “Midtown” in the area aren’t going away. And, of all people, Santa Cruzans should realize the futility of arguing against the tide going out.

Of the many comments we received on the story, many confirmed our general sense that “Eastside” partisans were more militant on the matter than the “Midtown” voters:

“EASTSIDE! Born and raised in Santa Cruz. My parents and theirs before them called it EASTSIDE, which is the correct answer.”

“EASTSIDE!!!!! Midtown is a made-up BS name!”

The notion that “Midtown” is merely a tawdry marketing designation lingers with the “Eastside” crowd: “Midtown is just marketing hype” and “Midtown is a made-up marketing idea and should be eliminated.”

Of course, no one mentions that “Eastside” — as well as “Westside” and many other neighborhood place names — has been used for marketing purposes as well. The claim that “Midtown” is somehow inauthentic because it was coined as a commercial term brings us to the question of how “authentic” any other local place name can be. For instance, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History tells us that the Seabright community was named by a 19th-century developer named F.M. Mott, who borrowed it from a place name on the New Jersey shore. But who’s to say to what degree real estate marketing played in Mr. Mott’s adoption of that name? And how is that name origin any more organic than Midtown’s?

Photos of a plaque commemorating the Eastside Library and of the front window of the Midtown Surf Shop
“Names matter to people,” one local historian says of Santa Cruz’s Eastside-Midtown debate. “It’s part of feeling attached to a place you consider home.” Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Yet, the “Midtown” voters are not ready to concede that “Midtown” is a sales gimmick that popped up only last Thursday — “Midtown, for sure, and has been for 40 years. Just ask us folks born and raised in the neighborhood. And the next generation of Midtownie kiddos know where they’re from. Midtown, the heart of Santa Cruz!”

Some locals shared stories that refuted the idea that “Midtown” emerged artificially as a marketing term. One Redditor pointed to the famously territorial surfing community as a source for “Midtown”:

“Ages ago I was at a party in the Seabright neighborhood, early ’90s maybe. There were mostly surfers there from all sides of town, back when localism was still a thing. I remember someone saying ‘Surf where you live, Eastsiders must surf the Eastside and Westsiders must surf the Westside. Except the surfers living between the San Lorenzo River and the Harbor were always told to go back to the other side of town. So, in the absence of a place ‘the Midtown’ was created. Seasonally, there can be two good surf breaks within those boundaries, the Harbor and the River Mouth. When surfers arrived from outside of those boundaries they would try to claim them for their side of town, but someone stood up to all that malarkey and said “No! You are in The Midtown, go surf the Eastside or Westside.”

Many who responded to the story took the deep dive into local geography, trying to suss out something enduring and permanent within a constantly changing landscape. The disagreement over “Midtown” versus “Eastside” masks an even bigger confusion of just what constitutes the “Eastside.” Some insist that “Eastside” refers only to the area east of the San Lorenzo River to the Santa Cruz city line. Yet others use “Eastside” as a blanket term covering unincorporated Live Oak and Pleasure Point. “Eastside” as a container for specific locations expanded along with the areas beyond the city limits.

Regardless of the viewpoints on either side, it’s obvious that a neighborhood that once featured many business names using “Eastside” is now morphing into one predominantly using “Midtown.” Perhaps one day, years from now, “Midtown” will be the name with the deepest self-identification from locals in the area.

An Instagram user who lives in the area makes the case that “Midtown” already has history on its side: “Midtown isn’t just the name of a business district. This is our neighborhood, with its own [distinct] culture where we grew up. And I wish the editors would use that distinction. It’s not just whether or not it’s ‘Midtown.’ It’s recognizing what it is. From surfing, skating at the Morrissey Safeway parking lot in the 1980s and ’90s, Gault, DeLa, B40, and Harbor. The smell of our roller rink. Climbing the whale at the museum with your kids, NHS warehouse sales, and birthdays at Pacific Edge. It’s disc golf up at DeLa and whether your fave taqueria is Moreno or Vallarta. It’s the Seabright Bagelry chai on a cold morning as you walk to the jetty. Midtowners hear the screams from the Boardwalk from our backyards. It’s not just a marketing brand or something to be co-opted. It’s like Gertrude Stein’s famous misquote. But instead, there is a ‘there,’ here. And it’s Midtown.”

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More from Wallace Baine

Wallace reports and writes not only across his familiar areas of deep interest — including arts, entertainment and culture — but also is chronicling for Lookout the challenges the people of Santa Cruz...